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5G has taken the tech world by storm, and it won’t be long before telco companies all over the world start scrambling to get a piece of what is now being heralded as the “fourth industrial revolution.” One of the key players in this high speed race is ZTE Corporation, one of China’s prestigious multinational telecommunications companies. We spoke to ZTE’s director of wireless solutions, Summer Chen to give us a clear insight on what ZTE has been working on in terms of 5G technology development and their plans for the future.

Could you please start off by giving our readers a short overview about yourself and your role at ZTE?

Firstly, I am going to start off by telling you a little secret, today is my 20th anniversary at ZTE. I joined ZTE right after graduation, start from an RF engineer, for 10 years I worked on R&D of 2G and 3G base stations, and then I moved to 4G and 5G project management. Now I’m working in the high-end customer communications and strategy department, so my responsibility covers all kinds of wireless solutions include 5G\AI\IOT etc. It is very lucky to join such a great company.

What role do you think ZTE is playing in the technology ecosystem in Asia?

Actually, ZTE is an international company which has successful cases all over the world, among which China is one of our biggest markets. This year, we had some great success in Asia as well as Europe and the MEA region. This year 5G will be commercial launched in China, so we have put a lot of resources in this area, By virtue of end-to-end product series and abundant experience in commercial network construction, ZTE is actively participating in the commercial construction of 5G. We will work with industry partners to promote the commercial deployment of 5G to facilitate a win-win future of 5G.

What are the latest developments in wireless technology?

As mentioned earlier, I joined ZTE Company 20 years ago, at that time we started our business with 2G and CDMA. Now we’ve moved to 5G, technology is changing very fast. In the past, our traditional base station was integrated into a huge cabinet or rack which is very heavy and has lots of fans for system cooling. But now, everything has changed. When we move to the 5G era, everything becomes virtualized, not only the core network, but also the base stations. In addition, more and more modules will evolve from analogue to digital solution, so software will play a more important role in wireless network. In 5G era, taking RAN as an example, the bandwidth per carrier becomes larger, the software defined baseband processing chipset become more powerful and smaller, large array antenna array and artificial intelligence will also be introduced, making the network more simplified, more powerful and intelligent.

What is ZTE showcasing here at MWC Shanghai?

At MWC Shanghai, we are showcasing lots of amazing things, like the 5G +8k live broadcast demo in smart stadium, 5G cloud VR gaming , 5G robots , interesting use cases in smart manufacturing, autonomous driving, 5G water quality monitoring  and  remote education etc. Besides these demos, we are also exploring a lot of vertical industry applications of 5G with our partners.

Could you tell us more about ZTE’s smart stadium project?

The smart stadium project is an interesting and important use case because we both know that 5G’s initial phase will focus on the eMBB. The 360 degree video live broadcasting service, designed for sport event or festival inside the large venue, is seen as an innovative Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) use case, it combines multiple technologies such as Mobile Edge Computing (MEC), 5G transmission (unicast/broadcast), IP transformation of the video production, video analysis and editing using Artificial Intelligence (AI), low latency delivery in one application. It will deliver an amazing immersive watching experience for the audience in the stadium.

Yesterday ZTE and China Unicom made an announcement that ZTE will support the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in 2022. ZTE will help them realize 5G’s ultra-high definition video broadcasting to give the audience or attendees a wonderful experience with 5G.

Are there any new projects coming up? What’s ZTE working on at the moment?

Our main focus is to help the global operators to deploy 5G network and deliver 5G service. We think a safe, high efficient and cost-effective 5G network is very important for future growth. Beyond the use cases demoed in MWC shanghai, we are also exploring other vertical applications such as autonomous driving with Baidu, Yushi and GAC group, smart factory with SANY.

There have been growing concerns surrounding the security of 5G networks. What steps is ZTE taking to ensure greater security once 5G is fully ruled out?

Firstly, from technical point of view, ZTE has a full processing flow and we control all the R&D procedure for safe product design, manufacturing and operation of the whole company.

The second thing is that we cooperate with a number of organizations like 3GPP, GSMA, and involving in the security project. We are open and willing to contribute to build national-wide security and regulation standards.

Thirdly, we have close cooperation with operators and OTTs in order to build the cybersecurity system. Anyway, security should not become the hinder of service innovation.   It's about technology, it's not about politics.   

What challenges do you expect to face once 5G is fully rolled out?

Mostly it would be the vertical industry exploring. When and how. The cost effectiveness can be quite important. The operators that built the 5G networks might have some income through eMBB but the more interesting thing is that 5G can provide low latency and higher reliability and it will be more focused on vertical applications. For vertical companies, we still need to see how they can do their digital transformation and to do it correctly with regards to their business model. So that’s where we are experiencing uncertain things. The network is there, but how to connect this excess probability with the business, I think this is a challenge.

I feel that technology is seldom the challenge, usually business module will be the challenge.

How can telcos enhance their 5G offering?

For end-users, 5G can deliver high speed and rich experience with diverse applications. But for verticals, we think low latency and eMBB capability of 5G will become the enabler of most use cases. Normally with LTE and even NB-IoT network, it’s hardly to connect everything, but with 5G mMTC, we certainly can and we’ll see booming 5G applications like autonomous driving, smart manufacturing and health care.

What do you think about the standardization of 5G in terms of spectrum?

Spectrum issues are different for different region. For example, in Europe, many countries have begun their spectrum auction and the operator needs to spend a lot of money to get the license, but in China and some Asian countries, spectrum is allocated to the operators free of charge. So it is quite different.

Normally, we divided the 5G spectrum into three categories: the lower, the middle and the mmWave. The lower frequency band is normally 700-800MHz which has small bandwidth but it can provide wide coverage. The middle frequency band which is 2.6 GHz or 3.5 GHz. For this kind of spectrum, it is expected to be widely used in the initial stages of the 5G rollout, which providing a very good balance between capacity and coverage. While the mmWave has the worst coverage, it is more suitable to be deployed in hotspots for achieving ultra-high capacity.

In China, there are four operators which have already received the 5G license. China Mobile, 2 frequency bands: 2.6 GHz and 4.9 GHz while China Unicom and China Telecom got 3.5 GHz, each has 100 MHz bandwidths. There’s also a newcomer that received 4.9 GHz who wants to share the spectrum with other three operators, so the situation of China is quite different with other countries.

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